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China lands probe and rover on Mars

AFP, May 17, 2021 6:45PM Kids News

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An artist’s illustration of the Zhurong rover on Mars. Picture: China National Space Administration media_cameraAn artist’s illustration of the Zhurong rover on Mars. Picture: China National Space Administration

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China’s probe to Mars has touched down with its Zhurong rover on board.

The lander completed the treacherous* descent through the Martian atmosphere using a parachute to navigate the “seven minutes of terror” as it is known, aiming for a vast* northern lava plain known as the Utopia Planitia.

The Chinese government broadcaster announced it had “successfully landed in the preselected area”, in a special program dedicated to the mission called Nihao Mars (Hello Mars).

The official Xinhua news agency said the China National Space Administration (CNSA) had confirmed the touchdown.

It makes China the first country to carry out an orbiting, landing and roving operation during its first mission to Mars. Only two other nations — US and Russia — have reached Mars.

China’s President Xi Jinping sent his “warm congratulations and sincere greetings to all members who have participated in the Mars exploration mission”, Xinhua reported.

China has now sent astronauts into space, powered probes to the Moon and landed a rover on Mars.

Zhurong, named after a Chinese mythical fire god, arrived a few months behind the US’s latest probe to Mars, called Perseverance.

Six-wheeled, solar-powered and weighing about 240kg, the Chinese rover is on a quest* to collect and analyse rock samples from Mars’ surface.

In a message published on Saturday night on the social network Weibo, the Zhurong rover greeted its “Earth friends”. “I’m still inside the landing pod,” the Weibo post said. “Can’t wait to find out what’s on Mars.”

The launch of China’s Tianwen-1 Mars probe that carried the lander and rover last July marked a major milestone* in China’s space program. The spacecraft entered Mars’ orbit in February and after a long silence government media announced it had reached the “crucial touchdown stage” on Friday.

It is expected to spend around three months there taking photos and recording geographical* data.

media_cameraAn image from NASA’s Perseverance rover taken on April 29, 2021 showing “Santa Cruz,” a hill about 2.5km away. The Zhurong rover will explore a northern part of Mars called the Utopia Planitia. Picture: AFP/NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The complicated landing process is called the “seven minutes of terror” because it happens faster than radio signals can reach Earth from Mars, meaning communications are limited.

“The distance was too far away that the spacecraft has to do it totally by itself,” said Chen Lan, an independent analyst specialising in China’s space program. “If there was something wrong, people on the Earth have no way to help.”

Several US, Russian and European attempts to land rovers on Mars have failed in the past, most recently in 2016 with the crash-landing of the Schiaparelli joint Russian-European spacecraft.

The latest successful arrival came in February, when NASA landed Perseverance, which has since been exploring the planet.

US watching Chinese rocket's erratic re-entry: Pentagon media_cameraPeople watch a Long March 5B rocket, carrying the first Tianhe space station core module, as it lifts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China’s Hainan province on April 29, 2021. Picture: STR/AFP

China has come a long way in its race to catch up with the US and Russia, whose astronauts and cosmonauts* have decades of experience in space exploration.

It successfully launched the first module of its new space station last month with hopes of having it staffed by next year and eventually sending humans to the Moon.

GLOSSARY

  • treacherous: with hidden or serious dangers
  • vast: an immense space
  • quest: long and difficult journey in search of something
  • milestone: important achievement
  • geographical: land form, such as hilly, flat, rocky

EXTRA READING

China launches mission to the Moon

China’s Mars mission blasts off

Australia agrees to new rules for the Moon

Race is on to reach the red planet

QUICK QUIZ

  1. Which planet is this story about?
  2. Which country’s mission is it?
  3. What is the name of the rover? What does the name mean?
  4. What is significant about this mission?
  5. What other space success did China have last month?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Seven Minutes of Terror Podcast Recording
Work with a partner to write a short commentary on what may have possibly been happening during the ‘seven minutes of terror’ as space experts refer to it.

Try and build the tension and give periodic updates of what the lander (carrying the rover) could be doing and how you might know when it’s about the reach the Mars surface.

Once you’ve written your commentary, practice reading it aloud, then you and your partner can record each other.

Listen to it back and see how it sounds.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Digital Technologies, Personal and social

2. Extension
What do you think the Chinese government is going to do with the geographical data this rover records on Mars? Do you think they will share this information with other countries’ space agencies? Why or why not?

Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and creative thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
Proper Noun Police
A proper noun is a noun that names a particular person, place or thing. It always has a capital letter.

How many proper nouns can you find within this article? Find them all and sort them into the category of name, place, time (date/month).

Can you find any proper nouns included in your writing?

What are they?

Can you sort them into their categories?

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